"Who the hell am I?" whimpers Colin Farrell's confused protagonist Douglas Quaid throughout this diverting, if not particularly engaging new version of Total Recall.
For a film revolving around questions of identity, it's somewhat apt - if disappointing - that it doesn't really grasp what it is or needs to be.
A morbidly serious tone pervades the movie, eschewing the wild OTT thrills and fun exploitation of Arnold Schwarzengger's star persona in the 1990 version. Yet in its place, there's no effort to probe any psyches or explore the resonant themes like uprisings and terrorism simmering beneath the slick aesthetics. So, what the hell is it?
This new version of Philip K Dick's short story 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale' is perfectly decent action fodder, with a relentless pace and slick action staged within a highly impressive set that exude a distinctly dystopian Blade Runner aesthetic. But it feels mostly soulless despite the best efforts of the cast.
The story revolves around factory worker Douglas Quaid's disillusionment driving him to visit Rekall, a shady firm that implants fake memories in their clients' minds. Quite why he is so hacked off that he takes such extreme measures, especially with mega-gorgeous and adoring wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) at home, is very poorly conveyed.
He soon encounters Melina (Jessica Biel), who claims to be a former lover, and flees to the other side of Earth while the authorities pursue him. While a trip to Mars is not on the agenda, there is at least a three-titted lady to remind us of its superior movie predecessor.
At the heart of the story is a Hitchcockian premise involving an 'everyman' placed in an extraordinary and mysterious predicament. Compared to Arnie, Farrell is far more suited to playing Quaid - who the audience should relate to and root for. The script largely scuppers this, failing to lay adequate foundations to the character in favour of hurtling towards the next sustained set piece.
The cast give it their best shot and presumably picked up plenty of bruises along the way. Farrell furrows his eyebrows and does his best 'confused' act, Biel exudes empathy and earnesty and Beckinsale flits effortlessly between adoring housewife and maniac cop, even trading accents along the way.
While Lori is far more prominent in the plot than Sharon Stone's version, the chance to delve beneath her bitchy demeanour is ignored in favour of a procession of chase sequences.
Examine the situation Lori is in - a police officer pretending to be a dangerous man's wife, including all its intimate privileges, as part of an elaborate undercover operation. It's a shame the script is more interested in her playing a one-dimensional bitchy villainess instead of a woman who has been faced with a horrible ethical dilemma.
Apart from missing that open goal, the movie barely uses Bill Nighy as the rebel leader and woefully misuses Bryan Cranston as a very generic bad guy.
For all of its disappointments and superficiality, the 2012 Total Recall is packed full of visually audacious action scenes, looks spectacular and contains some good two-hander scenes between Farrell and his two leading ladies. Ultimately, it's a totally watchable action thriller but not the film it could and should have been. One hell of a missed opportunity.